March 30, 1999

Report on Opening Night

By Jeannie Williams
Natasha Richardson is the toast of Broadway again, in the play Closer. It's so raunchy it makes Cabaret look like a kindergarten story. Richardson, a Tony winner last year as Sally Bowles in Cabaret, admitted to being "a bit overwhelmed" as Thursday's opening-night party swirled around her at the Lot 61 club in Chelsea.

Pro that she is, it's still "a very strenuous play, emotionally grueling. But a night like tonight, with Harrison (Ford) and Judi (Dench) being here, and Uma (Thurman) is a good friend, so she came to give me moral support . . . I love Ethan (Hawke)! And Judi Dench is one of the greatest actresses on earth!" Thurman and husband Hawke stood to lead the applause, though later neither wanted to comment on the play's heavily sexual content. Said Hawke, "Natasha was outstanding! Natasha and Uma are my favorite actresses in America." Thurman agreed Richardson was "unbelievably good," and said of Anna Friel, "I haven't seen her before, but she was amazing, so emotional and beautiful." Ford, who also schmoozed with Closer co-producer Scott Rudin, had been blown away by Richardson in Cabaret. Her co-star from that show, John Benjamin Hickey, also was on hand. Hubby Liam Neeson was in London at work on The Haunting, with Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Richardson said of Closer's four sexually troubled characters: "I think they're all of us. A friend of mine came to see it, and he said at the end of the first act, 'I don't know if I like these people,' and at the end of the play, he thought, 'I am all of these people.'

"I feel there are aspects of my own life in this, aspects of a lot of people's. It's about modern relationships. It's very funny, but very scary, too. It makes you confront things."

Friel, "22 and single," she says, is being praised as a pint-sized powerhouse (The New Yorker). She was wired on arriving at the party, saying, "The last two months have been 16-hour days, and we've just been giving everything. And tonight, we're like, 'Oh, my God, it's our parents and agents, we've got to do it for them!' And I got hit in the mouth in the strip scene! Ciaran (Hinds) gets my chin he punched me. So I was going with a big fat lip for the whole second act! He went, 'I'm so sorry, Anna!"

Best friend Kate Moss was with her. Dench sent her flowers, as did "Tom and Nicole they saw it the other night," Friel said.

Guests snapped photos with the quickie cameras on each table (Richardson's character is a photographer). In the crowd: Alan Rickman, Peter Duchin, Edward Norton and ABC's Roone Arledge, who found Closer's dirty talk was "more than was necessary."

But the smut battle seems lost, when Whoopi Goldberg can call the president's secretary a word that rhymes with witch in prime time (at the Oscars), and foul language abounds in all entertainment media.